A request to expand Lompoc’s city limits was rejected after reigniting a long-standing debate about protecting prime agricultural land versus providing property for future development of homes.
At the end of a four-hour meeting Thursday afternoon, the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission voted 5-2 to deny including 148.3 acres in the city’s sphere of influence, or area targeted for future annexation into Lompoc. Commissioners Shane Stark and Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne voted against the denial.
State law designates LAFCO as the agency to rule on boundary changes to encourage orderly growth and development. The commission includes city, county and regional representatives.
“I don’t believe I have the information, and the information I do have says the consequences aren’t worth it, so I will be voting against the sphere of influence expansion at this time,” chair Joan Hartmann said.
“What I see, too, is a picture that is not complete. I feel that there’s not enough specificity to it so I can’t support it,” Commissioner Craig Geyer added.
LAFCO staff said the sphere of influence expansion raised a number of concerns related to agriculture, housing affordability and job-housing balance, capacity to provide services to the new area, urban sprawl and more.
In 2017, the Lompoc City Council directed staff to again initiate annexation proceedings for the Bailey Avenue Corridor. At one time, the city sought both sphere of influence and annexation, but separated the request in 2021.
A larger proposal has been trimmed to including fewer parcels — the Bailey property at 40.6 acres and 107.7 acres known as the Bodger property, adding up to 148.3 acres. The previous proposal encompassed about 270 acres.
“We wanted to know if LAFCO is even open to the possibility of a future annexation of this territory before we went through the pre-zoning and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process to file the annexation application,” City Attorney Jeff Malawy said, adding that the city also would negotiate a property tax sharing agreement with the county.
The city’s presenters included former state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, co-author of the Cortese-Knoz-Hertzberg Act guiding LAFCO decisions across California.
“You’re not approving anything today. What you’re saying is this deserves more consideration,” Hertzberg said.
LAFCO’s prior rejection urged Lompoc to look to infill development, but the city attorney said that in the past six years, the city has seen the construction of 81 new housing units despite incentives to developers.
Employers such as Den-Mat and Vandenberg Space Force Base have complained about the lack of available housing in Lompoc, forcing employees to live in the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys or beyond, Councilwoman Gilda Cordova said.
Multiple speakers included farmers, environmentalists, real estate agents and Lompoc’s new fire chief and house hunter.
Upon being hired, efforts to find housing in Lompoc weren’t successful, Chief Brian Fallon said.
“In my opinion, Lompoc first and foremost simply just needs more housing,” he said.
“We’re not asking to take away all the ag land; we just want a piece of it in order to allow us to become a healthy community,” said Maria Aguiniga, a real estate broker. “We need growth, and I think this would be a great compromise in allowing Lompoc to decide what happens with this land.”
But others called for protecting the land used to grow various crops.
Ken Hough, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network, said conflict between residential and ag uses would be exacerbated by development along Bailey.
“Perhaps if the City of Lompoc and all the Realtors and loan officers who wrote letters of support would put their collective energy on these infill opportunities, instead of focusing so intently on Bailey, maybe the housing needs could be better met,” Hough said.
Claire Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, noted that farming typically involves odor, noise, dust and more leading to conflict with neighbors.
“This is beautiful prime farm land,” she said. “We urge you to protect the immediate and neighboring agricultural resources and prevent predictable land-use conflicts.”
Before her colleagues voted, Osborne encouraged the panel not to deny the proposal outright, saying Lompoc wanted a chance to satisfy the various concerns raised Thursday.
“I am literally trying to transform a community that means it can survive into the next century and not be dependent on county services, Section 8 housing or jobs in South County,” Osborne said.
Staff will prepare findings to support the commission’s decision, and formal action is expected to occur at the April 6 meeting in Santa Maria.